Passages: Aleksandr Sidorenko, Moscow Olympic Champion, Age 61

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Passages: Aleksandr Sidorenko, Moscow Olympic Champion, Age 61

Aleksandr Sidorenko, the Olympic champion in the men’s 400 individual medley at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, died on Feb. 20 at the age of 61. Reports out of his native Ukraine indicate the cause of death as complications from COVID-19.

Sidorenko (or Oleksandr Sydorenko, in the Russian spelling) was born in what is now Ukraine in 1960. He became an elite swimmer in his mid-teens, winning a bronze medal in the men’s 200 IM at the European Championships in 1977, representing the Soviet Union.

He added a bronze at the World Championships in Berlin the following year, one of three swimmers to hold the world record in a hectic summer. Sidorenko took the record at a meet in Moscow on July 9 with a time of 2:05.24. That lasted less than a month, with Steve Lundquist taking over on Aug. 2, 1978 at 2:04.39. Graham Smith of Canada won gold at Worlds to lower the mark further to 2:03.56 and re-take his mark from 1977. Sidorenko went 2:05.29 in Berlin. (The 200 IM was on hiatus as an Olympic event, added for the 1968 and 1972 Games but excluded in 1976 and 1980 before being resorted for Los Angeles in 1984.)

Sidorenko also finished fourth in the 400 IM at Worlds, a race in which Jesse Vassallo (4:20.05) set the world record. Sidorenko’s fellow Ukrainian Soviet, Sergey Fesenko, took silver with a European record of 2:44.29.

Sidorenko qualified for the Soviet team in the 400 IM for the 1980 Olympics, which the United States and many Western countries boycotted over Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan. In Moscow, he edged out Fesenko, the 200 butterfly champ, to win in an Olympic record 4:22.89, a winning margin of .54 seconds. (The 400 IM was one of the events in which the winner at the delayed 1980 United States Trials/nationals a week later – Vassallo in 4:21.51 – was faster than the Olympic champion.)

Sidorenko continued to swim after the Games, but his Olympic dreams were scuppered by the Soviets’ retaliatory boycott of the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. He won gold in the 200 IM at the European Championships in 1981 and Worlds in 1982. He continued to swim through 1986, winning 20 USSR titles.

Sidorenko married fellow Olympic swimmer Yelena Krugolva, who won a bronze in Moscow on the Soviet 400 medley relay. Sidorenko managed a water polo team from the late 1980s through 2014 and volunteered with the water polo federation of his hometown, Mariupol, where he lived until he death.